Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

How good were the good old days ?

Do you ever find yourself wondering what it would be like to travel back in time and fish your marks with your current gear and knowledge levels ? I often wonder just how good the fishing was back in the good old days and I would love to actually know how much better things might have been say fifty years ago. Was it really that much better than it is now or does one tend to look back on the past through rose-tinted spectacles and imagine that all you had to do for example was to go out, drop a lure or a bait in the water and all manner of big fish would be fighting amongst themselves in their eagerness to crawl their way up your line...............

What was bass fishing like say fifty years ago ? I tend to believe that there were a lot more fish around and that the average size would have been larger, but am I anywhere close to the truth ? However good it might have been, I think our rose-tinted spectacles can preclude us from accepting that whatever the situation was or was not, fish still take catching, and it's rarely just a case of turning up and hammering big fish. I want to think that catching 10lb plus bass was easy back then, but why then has the capture of a 10lb plus bass always seemed to be of such significance ? I doubt that catching double figure bass with a degree of regularity was ever easy.

I have been lucky enough to have spent a bit of time in a saltwater area of the world that I would class as nigh-on "virgin" - those ultra-remote Indian Ocean atolls that are hundreds and hundreds of miles from anywhere are in my mind as close to untouched as you are likely to find on this earth, and yes, at times it feels like those warm clear waters are teaming with so many fish that you have to wonder how they all find enough space. But they still take some catching. You might think that all you do is turn up (not remotely easy in itself), jump off the tender onto a flat or perhaps have a crack at the offshore stuff and that silly-big fish will charge whatever you chuck at them....................

Sure, sometimes the fishing can be so good it's what I would term insane, but sometimes those atolls feel like a desert - all those fish yet where are they ? Fish don't feed all the time and just because there might be loads around does not mean they are going to throw all of their rule books out of the window and be in front of you regardless of tide/moon/weather/clarity/season etc. I would also add into the mix the fact that it doesn't half pay to fish with the right people who know their stuff, but even the FlyCastaway guides I know would say that on Providence for example, sometimes they are busting their proverbial heads to try and work out where the fish are in all that water.

We obviously can't get away from the simple fact that too many fish are being removed from the oceans of this world. Everybody knows that you need to leave fish alone to breed in peace to at least some sort of chance at a sustainable future, but when did logic ever enter an argument that is sadly bound by geography, politics and money ? I happen to believe that "big" fish have always taken a bit of catching (notwithstanding a bit of luck), but if you get the chance to speak to highly competent anglers who were fishing back in the day (whenever that actually was) and you hear some of the stories of how awesome it could be, wow it doesn't half put some perspective on our fishing today. They still had to work at it and no fishing anywhere on earth is awesome all the time, but those stories of cod and bass catches for example - we are talking about world class fishing if you ask me. World class shore fishing from our shoreline. It has happened before which means it could happen again.

I have very vivid memories of a few bass fishing sessions that took place over in Ireland, and specifically one or two bait sessions on the Wexford coastline. I know that I have come to bass/lure addiction late in life and I kinda presumed that the good old days had gone forever and that I would never see its ilk in my lifetime, but on a couple of early autumn days I think it was, Graham and I had a couple of sessions on crab that in my mind were verging on insane - the numbers of fish and the average size of them I thought could surely not happen in our lifetime. For a few glorious, big blue sky, tumbling surf hours, if you "read" the water right and put your crab bait in the right place, you got hit, and I don't recall catching a fish under say 4lbs, with most being 5/6lbs+. I accept completely that my memory of those magical hours might have taken on their own bit of rose-tinted sheen over time, but holy cow did we smash them, to the point that I could not imagine how the fishing could have actually been any better, whatever the year.

Might all those bass we caught been 10lb plus fish back in the good old days ? We could imagine they almost "should" have been with the indignation we anglers feel at the raping of the oceans going on, but in reality ? I don't think so. I do think that perhaps sometimes so much good stuff comes together at exactly the right time that the good old days to reappear from time to time, albeit most of us have no yardstick to measure it by. Being an angler requires that we are eternal optimists and dreamers, and I wonder how many of you dream of that magical time machine that would let us experience the good old days and compare them to what we have got right now. Scary and exciting at the same time ?